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The Bridge at the Edge of the World: Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability Hardcover – March 28, 2008

4.3 out of 5 stars 31 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Acclaimed environmentalist Speth asserts that our capitalist economy, with its emphasis on continuous robust growth, is at loggerheads with the environment. He minces no words as he writes that to destroy life as we know it, all we have to do is “keep doing exactly what we are doing today.” Observations from nineteenth-century naturalists, such as Audubon writing about the passenger pigeon, reveal humanity’s failure to understand the repercussions of environmental destruction, a lack of foresight now exacerbated by the whirlwind demands of modern consumerism. Quotes from economists, political philosophers, and technology experts offer erudite analyses of a realization set out in Bill McKibben’s Deep Economy (2007) and now gaining momentum: society’s slavish devotion to economic growth does not allow for critical environmental protections. We need look no further than the controversial Kyoto Protocol, Speth reminds us, as evidence. If Americans do not rein in spending, only one result is assured. If we do not learn to consume less, we will consume the biosphere itself in our binge. --Colleen Mondor


"Speth is a maestro—conducting a mighty chorus of voices from a dozen disciplines all of which are calling for transformative change before it is too late. The result is the most compelling plea we have for changing our lives and our politics. And it is a compelling case indeed."—Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.
(Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.)

"Honest, insightful, and courageous. Dean Speth draws on his formidable experience and wisdom to ask why we are failing to preserve a habitable Earth. His conclusions are cogent, revolutionary, and essential."—David W. Orr, Paul Sears Distinguished Professor of Environmental Studies and Politics, Oberlin College. Author of Design on the Edge and Earth in Mind

(David W. Orr)

“When a figure as eminent and mainstream as Gus Speth issues a warning this strong and profound, the world should take real notice. This is an eloquent, accurate, and no-holds-barred brief for change large enough to matter.”—Bill McKibben, author, Deep Economy and The Bill McKibben Reader

(Bill McKibben)

"An extremely important book both for what it says and for who is saying it. The steady transformation of a solid, pragmatic, progressive negotiator into a 'radical and unrealistic' oracle concerned with the fundamental nature of modern economies is an important event."—Richard Norgaard, University of California, Berkeley
(Richard Norgaard)

"One can scarcely choose a more important or timely subject than this one. Speth writes about it with passion and conviction, and a touch of humor."—J. R. McNeill, Georgetown University
(J. R. McNeill)

“A powerful and ambitious attempt to characterize the changed strategies environmental organizations need to adopt to become more effective. This book challenges many things that would seem to have political immunity of a sort—among others, corporate capitalism, the environmental movement itself, and the forces of economic globalization.”—Donald Kennedy, editor-in-chief, Science Magazine
(Donald Kennedy)

"In this magisterial and hopeful book, Speth charts three compelling journeys—his own path from reformer to deep systems analyst, environmentalism's trajectory from inside player to social movement, and the nation's emerging great transition from a way of life rooted in economic scarcity to the discovery of nature's abundance. This is a profound book which deserves our deepest attention.”—Juliet Schor, Professor of Sociology, Boston College, and author of The Overspent American: Why We Want What We Don't Need
(Juliet Schor)

"Gus Speth leads us to the formidable bridge we must cross -- an epic transformation in how we live, consume and produce -- to halt capitalism's destructive forces and to improve the human condition.  A calm and persuasive guide, Speth is infused with the human optimism always needed for great historic shifts."—William Greider, author, The Soul of Capitalism: Opening Paths to a Moral Economy
(William Greider)

"What a delight to read Gus Speth's' new book, which no one else could write but all will admire, stunned by his remarkable talents. The book opens vast new opportunities for thought and discussion in science and public affairs and will undoubtedly long stand as the classic that it is."—George M. Woodwell, Founder, Director Emeritus, and Senior Scientist, Woods Hole Research Center
(George M. Woodwell)

“Gus Speth’s critique of unbridled capitalism is riveting and haunting, and his solutions are poetic and inspiring.”—Devra Davis, author of The Secret History of the War on Cancer and When Smoke Ran Like Water
(Devra Davis)

“In The Bridge at the Edge of the World, James Gustave Speth gives us new lenses with which to see what we have done to our environment and, more important, to see what we can do to restore it. He challenges us all to act not for ourselves, but for our children and grandchildren. In particular, he takes on the most powerful guardians of the status quo—our mindsets. The bridge he hopes to construct has its bridgehead firmly based in today, because Speth asks us to think about it and then to use our creativity, imagination, and the power of common purpose to act to restore the environment and create a healthier world.”—Honourable Gordon Campbell, Premier, Province of British Columbia
(Honourable Gordon Campbell)

"Gus Speth is one of the leaders in trying to steer humanity on a course to sustainability, and this is his most important book to date.  Read it, and then take some action."—Paul R. Ehrlich, author with Anne Ehrlich of The Dominant Animal: Human Evolution and the Environment
(Paul R. Ehrlich)

The Bridge at the Edge of the World may be the most concise analysis of the current state of the natural world and what might be done about it."—Brooke Williams, Planet News
(Brooke Williams Planet News 2008-01-29)

"Acclaimed environmentalist Speth asserts that our capitalist economy, with its emphasis on continuous robust growth, is at loggerheads with the environment. He minces no words as he writes that to destroy life as we know it, all we have to do is 'keep doing exactly what we are doing today.'"—Booklist
(Booklist 2008-03-01)

"What is needed, Speth argues, is a radical change in the economic sysytem that takes into account the environmental costs of doing buisiness and refocuses society on building more sustainable ways of living."—David Funkhouser, Hartford Courant
(David Funkhouser Hartford Courant 2008-04-17)

"Contemporary capitalism and a habitable planet cannot coexist. . . . This book is an extremely probing and thoughtful diagnosis of the root causes of planetary distress."—Ross Gelbspan, Washington Post Book World
(Ross Gelbspan Washington Post Book World 2008-04-27)

"With candor, cadence and clarity, Speth presents a compelling case for prompt action, making this book a must-read. . . . Like an evangelist, Speth draws not just on facts, but anecdotes, quotes, even poetry to make his point."—Le-Min Lim, Chicago Tribune
(Le-Min Lim Chicago Tribune 2008-07-19)

"The Bridge at the End of the World was an epiphany for me. . . . I see it as a guide for moving toward cultural, social, and environmental equity that could in turn lead to balanced sustainability in the planet's future."—John D. Peine, Sustainability: Science, Practice & Policy
(John D. Peine Sustainability: Science, Practice & Policy 2008-08-20)

“With candor, cadence and clarity, Speth presents a compelling case for prompt action, making this book a must-read on the subject.”—Bloomberg News
(Bloomberg News 2008-07-19)

“Are these solutions hopelessly idealistic and impossible to achieve? Speth’s passionate argument is convincing—it can be done, but it will require a great deal of effort.”—The Futurist
(The Futurist 2008-07-01)

“His call for a radical departure for the [environmental] movement’s current strategy comes from the ultimate environmental insider”—The Nation
(The Nation 2008-10-06)

“Speth’s indictment of the present state of our politics is precise and perceptive. . . . He urges a bold and broad agenda for systemic changes.”—Bioscience
(Bioscience 2008-10-01)

"James Gustav Speth...leads us to a bridge at the edge of the world--an epic transformation of the way we live, produce, and consume. This is a fantastic, highly topical and potentially important book. It should widely be read, and translated into other languages."--Udo E. Simonis, Environmental Information + Environmental Policy
(Udo E. Simonis Environmental Information + Environmental Policy)

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; 1st edition (March 28, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300136110
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300136111
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #940,105 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
As do other current writers such as Thomas Homer-Dixon and David Korten, James Speth sees us heading for catastrophe in the way we're over-using and over-polluting the earth, but holds out hope that we may yet turn back from the brink of destruction. He attributes our predicament to an economic system based on little more than constant growth, which in turns requires ever more extraction from the earth; weak or nonexistent government leadership; and an environmental movement that has been less "movement" and more an insider operation that down deep believes a) the government can and will eventually do the right thing and b) there won't be need for drastic redirection of our economic and political systems or serious change in our way of living.

Speth calls for a rediscovery of the true meaning of life (relationships, service, enjoyment of leisure, etc.)--and orienting our economic pursuits around this; a new form of participatory democracy that takes back our country from the corporate-led government we currently "enjoy"; ending over $850 billion in annual global subsidies for "perverse" practices such as overfishing the seas; developing an economic model that incorporates environmental care, human rights and worker well-being at its core; and international treaties with "teeth" to enforce environmental protection of critical habitats and endangered species and ecosystems.

This is a depressing book in that it clearly lays out the challenges facing us; it is hopeful in that it does provide a "bridge" to get us from this world to the next. It's up to us to build it and then be ready to walk over it.

Telling quote: "When the crisis occurs, the actions taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, and to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes the politically inevitable."
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Format: Hardcover
Length: 3:37 Mins
This is a quick introduction to the book. The video is on YouTube at [...]. Enjoy!
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Format: Hardcover
When dozens of major Southern Baptist leaders broke news in the spring of 2008 with a letter to the world about climate change, it was a major milestone in this era of global change. Their letter simply underlined what millions are coming to see, already. We all need to help forge a powerful new linkage between spiritual values and values concerning our natural world. The Southern Baptist leaders wrote, in part, "We believe our current denominational engagement with these issues has often been too timid, failing to produce a unified moral voice."

Coming from this very traditional American center of religious authority, this was an important prophetic voice in the conversation about where we're all heading in the tumbling and turning of cultural and social tidal waves these days.

And, while phrases like these that may sound disturbing, Yale University's Dean of the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies James Gustave Speth shows us - loud and clear toward the end of his new book - that this tumbling just might turn out to be good news.

That's because his eloquent book about our environmental crisis begins by outlining "next steps" that we all need to consider in a whole range of sectors in our society: politics, business, education and so on. But then, he comes to his final section: "Seedbeds of Transformation."

He writes: "Many of our deepest thinkers and many of those most familiar with the scale of the challenges we face have concluded that the transitions required can be achieved only in the context of what I will call the rise of a new consciousness. For some, it is a spiritual awakening - a transformation of the human heart.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
James Speth, in The Bridge at the Edge of the World, writes a book that lands somewhere between a scholarly treatise on the planetary environmental effects of supporting seven billion humans and an anti-capitalist, anti-growth, anti-multinational corporation rant. One can have the highest of ideals, and the wrongest of approaches, simultaneously. The Bridge at the Edge of the World may be the best example of this since Ralph Nader's run for the presidency in 2000 led, without a doubt, to Bush's victory in Florida. Nader, by getting ideologically sidetracked, led to an eight year stonewalling of any serious attempt to deal with the ongoing environmental catastrophe that Speth so clearly articulates. Speth's distracting focus on the highly debatable hypothesis that capitalism is the root of most environmental evil may deny him the very converts to the cause that are so urgently needed at this tipping point in human history.

Point of view is important, and before any potential flamer turns his/her acetylene torch on this review, consider this: I became sold on the idea of global warming in 1971. I'm a lifetime Sierra Club member, monthly contributor to the Nature Conservancy, drive the most fuel efficient car on the planet (a 2001 Honda Insight that I bought used), am an all weather (neither sleet, nor snow, nor rain, etc.) bicycle commuter on my 18 mile round trip commute to work. Were you to visit my home, you'd sweat in the summer, shiver in the winter, as my heat pump worries about unemployment. I actively campaigned for(including, ugh, canvassing), and voted for, Obama. I eat organic oatmeal for breakfast, and I frickin' listen to NPR. In short, I have some creds. And yet I feel this book is a disappointment.
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